We are between read alouds in my classroom right now, so my team teacher and I decided to dedicate read aloud time this week to book talks. We started out strong with book talks in the beginning of the school year, and books were constantly being checked out of our classroom library. Students talked about books, shared books, and, most importantly, read books.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped giving book talks as part of our routine. Every now and then I remembere to share a book, but it hasn’t been part of our class culture. And, it shows. Last week I looked around during independent reading time and noticed only about half of my students engaged in a book. I called a few students over to the classroom library to help them find a book. Three students and three book talks later, I had three more engaged readers. I knew it was time to ramp up the regularity of book talks.
Reading Book Love by Penny Kittle reminds me that I don’t have to read every book I book talk with students. Reading a passage or the back cover aloud, and sharing my thinking on why I chose the book, can be just as effective a hook as having read the book.
The four books (two I’ve read and two I haven’t) I chose to talk about in our sixth grade classroom today are:
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Lion by Saroo Brierley
- House of Robots by James Patterson
- Gaby Lost and Found by Jennifer Cervantes
All four books were checked out and being read after I finished the book talks. We even have a class waiting list started for Lion! Book talks matter. As Penny Kittle says, “Your passion is contagious…Becoming a community of readers and writers invites the participation of all; I know that students are developing reading lives when their to-read-next lists are filled with books I’ve never heard of…I know how short my time with them is.”
Camper History Form
A son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson, cabin mate, friend, and camper.
Able to swim four laps and tread water for 10 minutes.
Allergic to food, medication, dust mites and his sister’s nagging.
Anxious about being away from home for two weeks.
Attending with his older cousin.
Eager to dominate at roof ball.
Expecting mail every day and at least one care package.
Hopeful to paddle the Trout Lake Circle.
Protective of the outdoors.
Proud of being a third generation camper.
Returning for his second summer.
Unhappy about having to clean toilets and showers during morning detail.
Camper is more than a camper history form.
Last summer my daughter watched a national YMCA youth gymnastics championship and decided that she wanted to be involved in a national Y sport. Her two choices were gymnastics and swimming; instead of the tumbling mats, she chose the pool. This season has been one of discovery for her. She has learned that many swimmers start on swim teams at five years old, while others start as teenagers. All are valued and respected and embraced in the YMCA’s core values, no matter their speed or form. My daughter has discovered that while she is an awesome recreational swimmer, mastering strokes and turns and entries is a lot of hard work. She has discovered that her mom needs a GPS to find YMCAs around the state. My girl has made new friends, uncovered lean muscles and learned lifelong skills. It has been a season of discovery for her.
Today between events at my daughter’s last swim meet of the season, I was reading Book Love by Penny Kittle. This book is definitely my top professional read this school year; every time I open it, I find more inspiration. This quote in particular struck me as I read, “Writing is discovery.” Kittle goes on to quote Donald Murray, “When we write, we uncover what we didn’t know we knew.” It’s so true. Even this post. I started writing just about Book Love and quickly realized all the discovery in my daughter’s swim season this year. I love writing. I love having a topic and watching it grow across a page. What I need to work on is sharing this love with my students. How can I continue to help them discover what they didn’t know they knew?
A year ago I never would have pictured myself cheering for my girl as she splashed across a small town YMCA pool. But she discovered a talent and a passion for being part of a Y team. She just had to uncover what she didn’t know she knew. Surely I can do the same in sharing my passion for writing. It has to be easier than a flip turn.
Yesterday in our sixth grade class we finished our read aloud, Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Our students enjoyed the story of a boy and his fox. We all predicted that the book would be a feel good tale of a boy separated from his animal and reunited at the end. No one predicted that it would ultimately be a story of loss, kindness, war, and the power that fear holds over a child. After a culminating class conversation about the book, I asked my students to write a letter. They could choose to write a letter to: the author, characters, a friend, or someone of their choice, as long as the letter conveyed their understanding of theme using evidence.
In reading their letters about Pax, I found lots of language that reinforces to me the importance of teaching readers to be writers and writers to be readers.
“I’m wondering if you added this for meaning…”
“I have a good connection to the end of the book…”
“I was surprised when I heard…”
“I would like you to write another book about…”
“A lesson the character learned that I have also learned is…”
I highly recommend Pax as a read aloud for sixth grade. But more importantly, our classroom of readers highly recommends it to you.
Today’s slice is going to be a small slice, since I have parent teacher conferences tonight and am chugging past twelve hours at school. At one of our parent conferences tonight I was explaining to a student’s mother how her son has grown as a writer. I shared that we can visibly see growth in his ability to write long and to write wide. We can also see it in the voice in his writing and the depth of his thinking.
But what I have seen grow the most in this child is his ability to tell his own story through his writing. He has written some beautiful pieces this year about challenges in his family life, celebrations on the football field, and dreams for his future. He is an author, who has discovered how to share himself through a story.
As my student’s mother left the conference, she said to my team teacher and I, “Thank you for knowing him.”
That is one of the highest compliments I have been paid as a teacher. Because, really, isn’t that what all of our students need? To be known.
Today is the first day of the writing challenge. One of my colleagues asked why I would take on a writing challenge. Why write? I took on this challenge for two reasons:
1. To write everyday and strengthen my own daily writing practice.
2. More importantly, I ask and expect my students to write everyday. Even when they’re tired, defeated, hungry, bored, disengaged, uninterested, angry, cranky or just don’t want to write. I still ask and expect they will put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write. No excuses. If I expect this of them, why wouldn’t I expect the same for myself?
I’m hoping to focus on what is happening with the writing of my own students in my posts. Ironically enough here I am on Day 1, and we had to skip our Writers Workshop today to accommodate a scheduling change that was out of our control, so my students did not even write today!
However, in Readers Workshop we learned about onomatopoeias. My team teacher gave many examples and then asked for ideas from our students.
My coteacher asked, “What is frrt?”
“A fart. Obviously.”
And this is a slice of my life. Bam!
For the month of March, I’ll be writing a daily slice of life – a snippet about life as a writer and as a writing teacher. I’m excited to take on the challenge; I think it will help me to appreciate what my students face every day when I challenge them to write.
Also, I’m eager to figure out how this blog works in order to fully participate in the challenge.